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Prehistoric Man in Ayrshire

John Smith

Published 1895

BEITH DISTRICT

 

THE Beith district, the land of the birch, presents us with what are supposed to be some ancient Druidical remains, especially in the neighbourhood of the Cuff Hill. The writer of the New Statistical Account of the parish, James Dobie, Esq. , of Crummock, seems to think that, in the language of the Druids, Cuff Hill was synonymous with Priest's Hill, and backs up this surmise by telling us that Cuffoeth was the ancient name of Stonehenge. More recent writers give it as Cuckoo's Hill.

On the north face of the Cuff Hill there is a rocking-stone, which by an effort can still be made to rock. The judicial purposes to which such stones were supposed to have been applied are things of a remote antiquity. This stone measures 6 feet 9 inches in length , by 6 feet 6 inches in breadth, 4 feet in height, has been estimated to weigh over 7 tons, and differs from the rock on which it rests. It has been an ice-carried boulder of porphyrite, exceeding tough, and may endure for ages. For its better preservation it has been surrounded by a stone wall, and stands in the centre of a small plantation. [There is another rocking-stone on Finkill Green, and not far from it a very large one, now covered by the waters of the reservoir.]

Below the rocking-stone, and near the north base of the hill, there is a ' Druidical circle,' called Kirklee Green, which measures 25 paces in diameter, and has been cut through by the old road (Fig. 161). To the east of it there is a small enclosure, now cultivated, which is said to have been an ancient burial-ground.

On Threepwood there was got an urn, capable of holding six gallons, and in it there were burnt bones, and a small incense-cup, or immolation urn, only 2 inches high, and with two perforations in its side. It is figured in the first volume of the Ayr and Wigton Archseological Collections. Near it was found another small urn , the lot being all hand-made.

Part of a cairn (originally a long barrow, and as such probably unique in Ayrshire ), second in interest only to the cave cairn on Strawarren in Ballantare district, exists near the south-east base of Cuff Hill. In 1810, when the parish road was being formed near it, it was considered a convenient quarry for road material, and as it was being removed two rows of stone cists, with human remains, it  were laid bare. Public curiosity having been excited, a stop was put to its demolition, but at the same time the rest of it was partly explored , with the result of finding three cromlechs, or cistvaen, and other features of interest. These ancient graves, having been left open, can still be examined, and are now known in the district as Druids' caves. So much for local traditions !

A Celtic sepulchral chamber of flat stones set together like a box, and covered by a tumulus.

cistvaen

Cromlech Preferred Welsh and Cornish word for the pre-historic structure found in all Celtic countries consisting of a large flat stone supported by three or more upright stones; called dolmen in English descriptions of sites in Ireland and Brittany. The word ‘cromlech’ may also describe a dolmen of more circular construction.

Two of the cromlechs have still got their table-stones in position, whence the popular mind has come to associate them with caves. Both of these are 3 feet wide, and one of them at least 3 feet deep.

The other cromlech has had the top stone, or stones, removed, for there are two massive stones beside it that may have covered it. One of the massive cheek-slabs, a limestone one, of this cromlech is over 8 feet in length, this cist being 3 feet 6 inches wide at one end, and only 1 foot 9 inches at the other, the depth being 3 feet 9 inches.

FIG. 161.  Druidical Circle, Kirklee Green, near Beith.

In one of the cists there was found a head of burnt clay and a bit of copper like a coin.

The late Robert Love, Esq., F. S.A. Scot., has described this long barrow in the eleventh volume of the Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland. Its original size was 153 feet by 59 feet, by 13 feet high. About 30 yards of it still remain.

On the south slope of Cuff Hill there are four massive boulders, placed in a sub-square position , and within an area of about 16 feet to the side, the northern pair being the larger. The sides are almost directly north and south and east and west. The spot on which they rest is called Lang Green, and between them a lot of calcined human bones and several flints were got, as I have been informed by Mr. Robert Craig, of Beith.

On Threepwood, on a rocky knoll, pretty much grass-grown, called Finkillgreen, there is a rocking-stone, which can still be easily rocked with one hand. It measures 5 feet by 3 feet 6 inches, and is 2 feet 8 inches high.

Near it, but now covered by the waters of the Paisley Dam, there is a much larger rocking-stone. Mr. R. Love gives it as 19 feet 7 inches in circumference, and estimates its weight at 11 tons 7 cwts.

Washingstane is a strange name for a house, but near it there is an elegant natural slab of dolerite, 6 feet 10 inches by 1 foot 2 inches by 4 1/2 inches thick, and this may have been the original Clach-na-Cudden, from which the place took its name.

The Moot Hill, composed mostly of boulders, stands by the side of a small stream, and near it at one time stood a square tower, which belonged to the Cunninghames.

The Moot Hill mound measures 17 paces in diameter at the bottom, and 6 feet 8 inches high. The top, which is flat, but not very circular, is 8 paces in diameter. Of whatever age this mound may be, Mr. Dobie informs us that on its top the Abbot of Kilwinning was wont to administer justice to his vassals and tenants.

When Loch Brand was drained, in 1780, there were found fixed into its bottom a number of oak and elm stakes, which were probably the remains of a crannog.

In the district has been got a hammer of whinstone, and in Bankhead Moss a quartzite slickstone of a reddish colour, which is in the National Museum at Edinburgh, and is figured in the seventh volume of the Ayr and Wigton Collections.

In the Hill of Beith (the Moot Hill, I presume) a perforated stone was found.

About 1770 there were dug out of a moss on Lugtonridge some half-dozen bronze bucklers. They were got at a depth of about 7 feet, and before being disturbed were found to have been placed in a ring. One of them has fortunately been preserved, and measures 26 3/4 inches in diameter, the semi-globular umbo being 4 3/8 inches in diameter. It is of the ancient type made for holding in the hand, the handle being placed on the inner side across the boss. Fingal, by Ossian, is called the' breaker of shields,' and by striking at the umbo of such a shield as this, and smashing it, the left hand of the holder would be injured. It is a work of high art, being ornamented 'with twenty nine concentric rows of small studs with intervening ribs' (Fig. 162). It has been figured in Wilson's' Prehistoric Annals, but more elaborately so in the first volume of the Ayr and Wigton Collections

FIG. 162.-Bronze Buckler, Lugtonridge. 

 

Bellcraig, a prominent rock in the south of the district, was probably a spot where the Baal fires were kindled in the days of old, and Tannelhill  (' fire hill ') was' probably put to a similar use.

A cleft in the rock on Cuff Hill is called St. lnan's Chair.

lnan was an Irvine saint, who lived during the earlier years of the ninth century. He appears to have been connected with Beith in some way, and is said to have given his name to the fair, Tinnan's Day, which occurs on August 18, O.S.

The castles of the district were Giffen, situated on the summit of a trap ridge, in the lordship of Giffen, and now represented by a small remnant. Near it was St. Bridget's Chapel and Well.

The farmer on the lands, Mr. Robert King, when making drains in the hollow to the north-east of the old castle, came upon a lot of human bones. So numerous were they that he became eerie and desisted. He pointed out to me a hollow to the west of the castle, and between it and the high ground on which Giffen village is situated, where tradition says a battle was fought between the lord of the castle with his retainers and an attacking party, and surmised that the spot where he found the bones had been the place where the killed had been buried.

To the south of the castle, when removing a fiat stone which had interrupted ploughing operations, he found it to be part of a stone coffin, in which there were human remains. These may have belonged to some chief of pre-castle times, who had his fort where the ruins of the old castle now stand. He also informed me that he had found on his lands a button with a coat-of-arms on it, and a stone mould for casting bullets in. Hazelhead Castle is situated more than a mile and a half north of Giffen Castle.

The barony of Beith was the property of the monastery of Kilwinning.

Near to Giffen there is said to have been a Bore Stane (a stone with a hole in it, in which a standard was erected when the people of the neighbourhood were summoned to battle); but Mr. Robert Craig, whom I consulted about it, was not sure if it were genuine.

At Trearne there is a limestone cavern, which, so far as I know, has never been explored.

At Giffen Mill, built into the walls, there are parts of the figures of a four-footed animal, a man, and an owl, said to have been taken from the Giffen Castle.

 

 

 

 

   

 

 

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